Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake + 5 Must Read 2020 Baking Books

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Starlings in Winter by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

 

Anne looked for Tess in the everyday.  At first, it was the strong breeze at Tess’ funeral on an otherwise calm day.  How beautiful the cherry blossoms rained on them.  The grievers, the grief-stricken, the heart-broken, the lost.  Cherry blossoms floating, flying through the air, landing on their jackets, settling in their hair.

Are you the tenacious breeze Tess?  You made yourself known again.  It was a beautiful display of your all-encompassing presence. Bursts of lightning and hail at Red Rocks while Grace and Anne watched the Avett Brothers sing holding out hope the storm would pass.  And then it did pass.  You pushed out the weather and revealed the stars.  We sang and danced.

Months later an enormous dragonfly landed on Anne’s mailbox, her tiny head facing the house as if ignoring the world. She refused to leave.  Anne poked at it. Nothing but a slight movement in the wing.

What’s wrong with it, Mama? 

I’m not sure.  How do you explain a living thing desiring to stay when it knows it would be best to leave?  You don’t.  Some things are unexplainable.

Fall came and so did the dead bird.  The bird lay on the stone steps outside of Anne’s house, wings to the ground, its underbelly exposed to the sky, bright white, her tail feathers ombre shades of pale blue.  A single leaf-covered her head as if she were part of a crime scene.  Anne stared at it for a few seconds before the kids came out of the house, backpacks in hand ready to go to school.

Mama, what happened?

Gross!

Can we have a funeral for it? 

Not now.  Get in the car. We are late.  

Later that day they did have a funeral for the bird.  Not really.  The kids lost interest and just wanted Anne to get rid of it.  Except for her older son.  He handed Anne the shovel after a failed attempt at digging a hole into the semi-frozen ground.  Anne forced the shovel through the frosted ground, raising the handle above her head and coming down as hard as she could breaking through the ground.  Over and over again.  Anne’s heart pumped hard.  She could feel it.  Tears welled but never spilled over.  Anne gently placed the bird in the ground and covered her with the earth.

I’m glad we planted her there, Mama.  He walked into the house and closed the door.  If only we could plant the things we love and loose and eventually they come back in the spring blooming once again.

The last visitor was a ladybug.  She landed on Anne’s hand at some point without Anne noticing.  It wasn’t until Anne lifted the toilet brush out of the now clean toilet that Anne spotted her.  How strange.  Anne walked down the creaky old stairs.  The ladybug was still sitting on her hand.  She opened the front door and blew as if blowing out birthday candles.  She flew away.

Did you make a wish?

I forgot.

Anne didn’t forget.  She wished for peace.  Not world peace.  That won’t happen.  But peace in her crippled heart.  Peace in the heart she felt beating, once again, after a long silence, when she buried the bird.

 

Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake

Serves 8

Recipe adapted from Simple Cakes by Odette Williams

Ingredients:

1 + ½ cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 tablespoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon espresso powder

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 + 1/3 cups of sugar

¾ cup of mild extra virgin olive oil

½ cup of whole milk

½ cup of buttermilk

¼ cup of freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon of orange zest

Ingredients for glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar,

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons of boiling water,

½ teaspoon of vanilla

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Butter, flour, and line with parchment paper 1 8×3 inch cake pan.  Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until very pale, about 3-5 minutes.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Next, add the oil, buttermilk, milk, orange juice, zest.  Beat on low speed until frothy, about 1 minute.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until well combined.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until the cake springs back when touched or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove cake from pan and allow to cool completely.  While the cake is cooling, make the vanilla glaze.

 

Directions for the glaze:

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium-size bowl.  Add the softened butter.  Pour boiling water over butter.  Whisk until the butter melts and the sugar and water come together to make a glaze.  Add vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Assembly:

Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, spreading gently with an offset spatula if necessary.  Decorate with sanding sugar or sprinkles if desired.  The cake can be stored at room temperature in an air-tight container until ready to serve.  Enjoy!

5 Baking Books to Check Out in 2020

Midwest Made by Shauna Sever is on all the lists right now.  Her recipes come straight from the heart of America.  You can get your copy here.

Weeknight Baking by Michelle Lopez, the author of the blog Hummingbird High, is a must-read for any home baker with easy and delicious recipes, as well as, suggestions for riffs to make it your own.

Looking to try something new this year or up your pastry skills?  Check out Pastry School by Le Cordon Bleu.  This baking book is a step by step baking guide for beginners, as well as, professionals.  Check it out!

Joanne Chang is by far one of my favorite bakers.  Her latest book Pastry Love is on my must-purchase list.

New to baking?  Buy a copy of Beginner’s Baking Bible by Heather Perine you will become an expert in no time…or at least more capable in the world of butter, flour, and sugar.

Favorite Chocolate Cake with Rich Chocolate Frosting + 5 Must Make Chocolate Cake Recipes

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While everyone else was grieving Tess, Ann made a chocolate cake, after all, it was her mother’s birthday.  Birthdays were celebrated in her family, Tess made sure of it, before cancer began a tug of war, taking much of Tess and leaving some.

[Crumbs left to feed those who loved her: an occasional kiss, a smile, a half-hearted laugh, maybe, on a good day, a story that made sense;  stories where time and place were accurate, not distorted by eighty-nine years of living. But, now, memories, people, places in time met as if in a bizarre dream, making sense only to Tess.  And when her children said no Mom that doesn’t sound right, no I don’t remember it that way and I think you mean…, Tess became agitated and angry as if her children were trying to rewrite her stories.  So they stopped correcting Tess, allowing her to hold onto the bits and pieces of her life as she saw them, painful, but a necessary mercy.]

Ann poured the chocolate batter into the prepared pans, moving the bowl slightly back and forth, watching the batter make ribbons and fold into itself.  Tess was still alive, god damn it.  A medical mystery! Some asshole somewhere would say, as if it were a good thing.  [Why is defying odds when the end is known and hope is absent a good thing? Breath entering and exiting Tess’ lungs, a strong heart still beating despite her mind saying I want to die.  Plastic rosary beads and a beat up bible offering nothing to her weary soul and failing mind…and yet she continues.]  Ann couldn’t understand why her mother never sought treatment, allowing cancer to eat her breast while her family watched, and cried, and grieved.  How selfish, Ann thought.

While the cakes rose in the oven, Ann cleaned the dishes.  The breeze coming through the kitchen window was warm and humid.  A drop of sweat slid down her breast dissolving into her t-shirt.  A night swim would feel so good.

Tess set two towels on the kitchen table letting Ann know it was time to put on her bathing suit.  Ann loved swimming at night with her mother, watching her float around the shallow end of the pool, making sure not to get her freshly permed hair wet.  Tess’ huge smile made Ann’s heart weak.  She loved her so it felt unbearable.  Ann knew someday the weight of their love for would crush her. Ann swam around her mother, porpoising through the dark water while Tess watched.  She turned onto her back and floated with her ears submerged, the sounds of the crickets and the bullfrogs muffled.  Ann stared at the black sky and the overcast moon.  And when Ann floated too far away from Tess, she could feel it without being told: “Don’t go so far away, old girl.” 

The memory of swimming with her mother made Ann feel sick.  If only she could do it all over again and be cared for by Tess, swallowed by her mother’s fierce love, and relinquish her newfound role as her mother’s caregiver.  But there is no starting over, one more time or do overs.

The dish soap left tiny bubble mountains on Ann’s hands.  She rinsed the soap off.  The oven timer blasted its horrible beep.  The cakes were ready, waiting for Ann to carry on.

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Birthday Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Recipe barely adapted from Food and Wine’s Mom’s Chocolate Cake

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients for cake:

 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups sugar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

6 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Directions for cake:

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Butter and flour two 8 by 1 ½ inch cake pans and line bottom of the pans with parchment paper.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ginger.  Set aside.

Grab a medium saucepan and combine the sugar with 2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves.  Pour into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the chocolate and butter and let sit.  Stir once in a while until the butter and chocolate are melted and slightly cool.  Add the vanilla and stir.

Using a paddle attachment beat the eggs on medium speed into the chocolate mixture until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed until well combined and smooth.  Pour the batter evenly into each cake pan.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow the cakes to cool in their pans on a wire rack for about 25 minutes.  Next, invert the cakes onto the wire rack and cool completely.

While the cakes cool, make your frosting.

Ingredients for Chocolate Frosting:

1 + 1/3 cups heavy cream

1 + ½ cups sugar

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

1 stick + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Direction for frosting:

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat.  After it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally.  Simmer until the liquid reduces slightly, about 5 or 6 minutes.  Pour the liquid into a medium bowl.  Add the chocolate, butter, vanilla, and salt.  Let sit until the chocolate and butter are melted.

Place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice.  Using a handheld electric mixer beat the frosting on medium speed, scraping the sides and the bottom a few times, until the frosting is very thick and glossy, about 10 minutes.  (You can also use a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment.  Be sure to surround the mixer with ice packs or a bowl of ice.)  Use immediately.

Assembly Time!

Place one cake layer on a cake stand.  Using a metal spatula spread 1/3 of the frosting over the cake.  Place the second cake layer on top and frost the entire cake with the remaining frosting.  Add fresh flowers to decorate, if desired.   Store cake, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

The cake will last stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.  Enjoy!

5 Must Make Chocolate Cake Links

The classic chocolate cake roll was on heavy rotation in my house growing up and I loved it.  Check out Smitten Kitchen’s version of the classic recipe here.

A go-to flourless chocolate cake recipe is a must for any baker.  Head to the Tartlette blog for a flourless chocolate cake served with a butter caramel sauce.  Yes!

Overrun with zucchini?  Make Zoe Bakes chocolate zucchini bundt cake.

Need a vegan option?  Check out Food 52’s vegan chocolate cake.

My new favorite cake blog is Cake by Courtney.  Her cakes are absolutely beautiful and look delicious.  Check out her chocolate dulce de leche cake recipe when you need a special treat.

Simple White Cake With Whipped Strawberry Frosting + 5 Spring Party Cake Links!

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I have been away from this space for far too long.  After a long winter of constant illness, including the flu, I’m finally regaining some energy.  I’m back and ready to bake, cook, write and share all of this with you.

So where do we begin?  We begin with a simple white cake with whipped strawberry frosting.  This cake is light and fresh, reminiscent of spring and brighter days.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

See you soon with more stories and recipes to share.

Simple White Cake with Whipped Strawberry Frosting

recipe adapted from Bake from Scratch

Makes 1 9-inch cake

Ingredients for cake:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 + 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 + 1/4 cups cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature

4 large egg whites, at room temperature

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter and flour two 9 inch cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Grab a medium bowl and sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Add vanilla and almond extract.  Lower the speed on the mixer and add the flour mixture alternating with the milk.  You should begin and end this process with the flour mixture.  Beat until just combined.  Transfer batter to a large bowl and set aside.

Next, beat the egg whites at medium speed until stiff peaks form.  Be sure to use a clean bowl when beating the egg whites!  Fold half of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining egg whites.  Divide batter evenly between pans.

Bake until the cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 25-20 minutes.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes.  Remove from pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Next, make the whipped strawberry frosting.

Whipped Strawberry Frosting

Ingredients:

1/3 cup freeze-dried strawberries

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, divided

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries

1 + 1/4 cups whipping cream, chilled

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

Directions:

Place freeze-dried strawberries in your food processor and pulse until they turn into a powder.  Set aside.  Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, 1/3 cup of confectioners’ sugar and salt.  Add fresh chopped strawberries and the strawberry powder and beat until combined.  Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Clean the bowl of the stand mixer and attach the whisk attachment.  Beat cream and orange juice on medium speed.  Slowly, add the confectioners’ sugar.  Continue to beat until stiff peaks form.  Fold half of the cream mixture into the cream cheese strawberry mix.  Next, add the remaining cream.  Use the whipped frosting immediately, decorating cake layers as desired.

Refrigerate the cake until ready to use.  Bring to room temperature before serving.  The cake tastes best the day it is made.  Refrigerate any leftovers in an air-tight container.  Enjoy!

5 Spring Cake Links

Love lemon cakes? Check out Spoon Fork Bacon’s unique twist on a classic lemon cake.

I love this beautiful watercolor buttercream cake from Sweetpolita.  It is so pretty I’m not sure I could eat it!

Strawberry season and sunny days are just around the corner. Embrace this time of year and make Hungry Rabbit’s strawberry banana milkshake cake or make my strawberry buttermilk birthday cake.

One of my favorite baking blogs, Hummingbird High, now has a recipe for my favorite cake/frosting combination with a slight twist: classic yellow cake with chocolate creme fraiche frosting. My mouth is watering!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apple Cider Doughnut Cake + 5 Unique Fall Desserts

 

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Hail Mary, full of grace.  Hail Mary, full of grace.  Hail… 

Tess rubs her rosary beads between her thumb and index finger, gently at first and then harder, much harder as if the act in itself will make her recall the prayer she has known since she was a child.  Russell, can you believe this?  She says to no one.  Oh Russell, when I need you the most…you disappointment me Russell.  She calls to the air.  She calls to the dust particles floating in the stale air, and the old cat riddled with tumors, purring near her feet.  She sets her rosary beads next to her mother’s bible which rests on a black marbled, plastic folding table circa 1970.  Water rings mark the table where Tess’ nightly whiskey on ice with a splash of water once sat.  Tess reaches for her walker and slowly pulls it towards her, clipping the cat’s tail.  The cat doesn’t seem to mind her carelessness, stares up at her lovingly, and quickly falls back asleep.

Tess’ body is now turning against her, every step is a chance and yet she makes her way into the kitchen.  Just as determined now, as she was playing basketball many decades ago. Tess stands at the counter hoping her knees won’t buckle or her legs betray her before she gets a chance to smell the apple cake her daughter left behind.  A peace-offering, a gesture of love, whatever her daughter tells herself to rationalize making decisions about Hazel’s life without much input from Hazel.

She inhales the cake deeply allowing the cinnamon, nutmeg and baked apples to fill her where she feels empty.  Tess thinks of a fork.  Fork to cake, cake to mouth.  Chew.  Swallow.  Easy enough, and yet, Tess’ hand fails to make the connection to the fork.  She plunges her long, skeletal finger into the cake.  It feels good being inside that cake, a bit of a relief having part of her body encased in something else.  Tess pulls her finger out, grabs a chunk cake with her arthritic right hand, and free throws it into the cat’s bowl.  One point, she thinks.

Tess’ legs feel weaker.  She must sit before she falls.  So, she slowly makes her way back to the living room, the cat just steps behind her, and plunks down into her chair, with bone-weary breath.  An old western plays in the background, like a friend carrying on with a conversation long after your mind has drifted elsewhere.  The western doesn’t reach Tess, but the sound is comforting.  Tess closes her eyes.  Rests.

Not today, Russell?  She asks to no one.  Then when, Russell?  She asks to to the air.  She asks to the dust particles floating in the stale air, and the old cat riddled with tumors, purring near her feet.       

Apple Cider Doughnut Cake

Serves 8-10

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 + 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 + 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup apple cider

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 unsweetened apple butter (store-bought or homemade)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs at room temperature

Ingredients for topping:

1/4 cup raw sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Generously butter and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan and set aside.  Grab a large bowl and add the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk together until combined.  Set aside.   In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together sugar, apple cider, oil, apple butter, vanilla, and eggs.  Add wet mixture to dry mixture and whisk until well combined.  Pour batter (it will be thick) into prepared pan, spreading the mixture evenly with a spatula.

Bake for about 50 minutes (check at 45 minutes), rotating the pan halfway through until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.   Transfer pan to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  While cake is cooling, melt butter.  In a small bowl mix together raw sugar and cinnamon.  Invert cake onto wire rack.  Brush cake with melted butter and then sprinkle sugar/cinnamon all over the top of the cake.   Serve and enjoy!

*Cake can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to two days.*

5 Unique Fall Desserts

Looking for the best of two sweet worlds in one pie?  Check out Food & Wine’s apple cider cream pie.

Apple pie in cookie form?  Yes!  Head to An Italian In My Kitchen for the recipe.

Celebrating a fall birthday soon?  Head to Adventures in Cooking and make Eva’sapple spice cake with salted caramel frosting.

There is nothing I love more in the fall than apple crisp with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and then I stumbled on this recipe.  Yes, please!

I am from New England and yet I have never made a New England Apple Cider Cake.  A Family Feast’s recipe is now on my must make list.  Check it out!

 

Strawberry Buttermilk Birthday Cake + 5 Unique Birthday Cake Links

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Wilson May didn’t care much for birthdays.  And yet he acquiesced, celebrating with family, [family he didn’t care much to see], at the request of his pushy daughter, year after year, cake after cake.

Why the hell does my daughter need to mark every goddamn birthday? He thought while his phone vibrated in his pocket.  It was her.  [Who else would it be?]  Calling to remind him about his birthday celebration later in the day.

As if Wilson needed a reminder that yet another year had passed.

He silenced the vibrating phone in his pocket [God damn phone.] just as the nurse he dreaded seeing pushed open the door to the long, stark hallway he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to walk down.

Wilson May?  Wilson May?  the nurse said, her squirrel like eyes darting around the waiting room.  [Did her nose wiggle too? Is she sniffing me out?]

Wilson removed his cheap, cockeyed reading glasses placing them in the 3 button placket of his pink polo shirt, adjusted his now wrinkled pants and debated leaving.  In 20 minutes he could be home.  Alone.  A beer in hand and sitting in the sun on a large wooden deck only one rocking chair occupied, where he’d have more time to think about what was next for his tottery body, his tired soul. [If the pain dissipated? Golf everyday. Gone entirely? Travel, fucking, drinking.  Wilson as he imagined himself 25 years ago.]

And yet, Wilson’s inner thoughts never matched his outer life.  For the past sixty-six years he had lived and loved two very different lives.  The life the outside world saw, a life well-lived [to others], consisted of obligations, dependability…sometimes love varied immensely from the impractical, reckless and solitary life Wilson imagined daily.

[At times becoming so engrossed in the romanticized version of his life, Wilson was unreachable. Lost to his castle in the air, his black coffee growing cold in his large, hairy hands, the local paper left unread.  His now ex-wife called them staring spells.  Wilson knew better.]

Wilson May…Wilson…?  He sensed a bit of hostility in the squirrel nurse.  He had aggravated her now and in turn she would likely be less gentle with him.  Tit for tat, like so many relationships he once knew.

Squirrel nurse surveyed the room one last time before giving up on Wilson.  The beige door gradually closed behind her, as if allowing chance to take over.

Wilson stared straight ahead, unmoving.  No decisions would be made today.

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Strawberry Buttermilk Birthday Cake

Cake and frosting recipe adapted from Sweetapolita

Italian pastry cream recipe adapted from An Italian in My Kitchen

makes 1, 3 layer, 8-inch round cake

Serves 10-12

Ingredients for cake:

4 eggs at room temperature

2 egg yolks at room temperature

1 + 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

3 cups cake flour, sifted

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup or 2 sticks, unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces

Ingredients for strawberry compote:

2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced

1/4 cup sugar (a bit more if strawberries are not sweet)

1 tablespoon orange juice

pinch of kosher salt

Ingredients for Italian pastry cream:

1 cup + 1/2 cup whole milk

4 egg yolks

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier

2 + 1/2 tablespoons flour

Ingredients for whipped vanilla frosting:

1/4 cup whole milk

3 sticks + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

good pinch of kosher salt

few drops of food coloring if desired

Directions for cake:

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Grab 3, 8 inch round cake pans and butter the bottoms and sides of each pan.  Line the bottoms with parchment paper and dust with flour.  Tap out an excess flour.  Set aside

Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, 1/4 cup of buttermilk and vanilla in a large measuring cup or small bowl.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Reduce the speed to low and add the cold, cubed butter, one piece at a time, leaving a few second in between each addition.  Continue to mix on low until butter  is well blended and looks like wet sand or cornmeal.

Next add the remaining buttermilk (1 cup) and mix on medium speed for about 4-5 minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated.  On low-speed, slowly add the egg mixture.  Increase speed to medium and beat for about 1 minute.  Stop the mixer and fold the batter once or twice.

Divide the batter evenly among the three pans.  Bake two of the pans until the cake is golden and springs back gently when  touched in the middle or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a couple of crumbs, about 25-28 minutes.  Cool cakes on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing them from the pan to cool completely.   Next, bake the last pan for 25-28 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling completely.

Directions for strawberry compote:

Combine 1 cup of strawberries, sugar, orange juice, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often until the berries start to break down, about 10 minutes.

Lower the heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  The compote is ready when it covers  the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Using a handheld masher,  mash the strawberries until juicy.  Add remaining fresh strawberries.  Store in an air-tight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

**The compote can be made up to 3 days ahead of time!**

Directions for Italian pastry cream:

Heat milk in medium sauce pan over low heat.  Do not boil.  Remove from heat.  Using another sauce pan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until combined.  Next add the vanilla and flour.  Slowly pour in warm milk and cook over low heat, whisking constantly until it thickens, about 10 minutes.  Cool slightly and stir in the Grand Marnier.  Pour into glass bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

**Pastry cream can be made several days in advance.  Store in air-tight container with plastic wrap covering the surface of the cream and refrigerate.**

Directions for whipped vanilla frosting

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until very pale and creamy, about 8 minutes.  Add sifted confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, salt and milk.  Mix on low-speed for about a minute.  Increase the speed to medium and whip for 5-6 minutes.  Add food coloring, if desired.  Frosting will be very light and creamy.

Assembly Time!!!

Place first cake layer on cake stand, face up.  Using a pastry bag, filled with the Italian pastry cream, pipe a two-inch circle around the perimeter of the cake layer.  This will keep the compote from leaking out.  Add a few spoonfuls of the strawberry compote to the center of the cake layer.  Spread the compote just to the pastry cream.  Add your next cake layer, pressing gently in place.  Again, pipe a two inch circle around the perimeter of the cake layer.  Add the remaining strawberry compote to the center of the cake layer.  Spread the compote just to the pastry cream.  Next, add the final cake layer, pressing gently into place.  Cover the entire cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Once the cake is chilled add the whipped vanilla frosting  to the entire cake, decorating however you wish.   Flowers, sprinkles anything goes!  Serve at room temperature.  Enjoy!

**Cake can be made 2 days in advance.  Be sure to keep it refrigerated.**   

5 Unique Birthday Cake Links

Looking for a special gluten-free cake for the chocolate lover in your life?  Head to the Tartelette blog for Helene’s flourless chocolate cake with salted butter caramel sauce.

Take advantage of fresh summer berries and make Camille Styles’ summer berry ice cream cake.

My husband loves chocolate chip cookies so I may need to make him Pastry Affair’s cookie dough cake for his next birthday.  Check it out!

Key lime pie in birthday cake form?  Yes it exists.  Head to Bakerella for the recipe.

My birthday was last week.  I’m thinking I’ll take some me time and celebrate a new year alone with a fork and this angel food cake.

Chocolate Cake Pan Cake + 5 Lovely Cake Links for Mother’s Day

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I think of her most often when the lilac bushes bloom in May.  I inhale their sweet floral scent deeply and see her as she was: short, dark curly hair framing her square face, beautiful brown eyes shining below thick eyebrows; strong hips sitting wide, above long skinny legs.  Her easy smile.

I kneel on the damp ground, searching for a four-leaf clover while blades of grass, small stones and drying mud stamp petrified impressions on my bony knees.  Looking haphazardly for luck, searching, minute after minute, for a clover windfall.  She walks by, the white rubber soles of her navy Keds grass-stained, her khaki chino shorts a bit stained with the morning’s bacon grease spatters and long tan arms brushing past her hips as she moves towards the grape vines and lilac bushes.  She pops a grape into her mouth, smiles. She pulls a pair of shears out of her back pocket and cuts a few clusters of lilacs, gathering them in her tanned, slightly wrinkled hands.  I love her absolutely, as only a child is able to love.  She is the great love of my life.

“What are you looking for, Kel?”

“A lucky clover.”

“You won’t find any luck around here.”  She says with a quick laugh and a half hearted smile.  [Decades later I will understand the multiple meanings of that one powerful sentence.]

Thirty years later, hip to hip, we inch across the driveway to my father’s car.  I carefully hold her twiggy arms.  Veins, tendons, bones now evident underneath her bruised paper-thin skin.  The weight of her body leaning against mine is barely felt.

[Time passes.  Time is an unsparing critic.]  

I want a chocolate cake for my birthday,” she says out of the blue.  I kiss her on the cheek and breathe in her powdery scent, hoping some of her smell will latch onto my shirt.  

“Ok, I’ll make you a chocolate cake.” I say as I ease her into the passenger seat pulling the seat belt across her concave chest, buckling her in like I do with own my children.  She smiles, turns away from me and stares straight ahead through the bug splattered windshield.  I know she is moving away from me, letting go.  She knows I understand this.  And yet, come August, with some luck, I’ll make her a chocolate cake.

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Chocolate Cake Pan Cake with Whipped Chocolate Ganache Frosting

cake recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Original Cake Pan Cake

whipped ganache recipe barely adapted from allrecipes.com

serves 8-10

Cake Ingredients:

1 + 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4 cup vanilla sugar

1/4 unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup milk ( I used 2%)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease an 8 inch square pan and set aside.  (You may also use a 9 inch round pan.)

Place dry ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk together.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla extract, vinegar, oil and milk.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.  Pour the  batter into your prepared pan.

Bake the cake for about 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs.  Begin checking the cake around 22 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan sitting on a wire rack.

While the cake cools make the whipped chocolate ganache frosting.

Fluffy Whipped Ganache Ingredients:

9 ounces of semisweet  chocolate, chopped or use chips

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon dark rum

Directions:

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.  Heat the heavy cream in a sauce over medium heat until it just begins to boil.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes.  Add the rum and whisk until completely smooth and shiny.  Cool the ganache until thick.  (I let it sit on our counter at room temperature for a couple of hours.)  Once cool whip the ganache using a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment until very light and fluffy.  Spread evenly over cake.  Slice the cake and serve with a cold glass of milk.  Enjoy!  (Cake will last up to two days stored in air-tight container at room temperature.)

5 Lovely Cake Links for Mother’s Day

Treat your crazy mom to a crazy cake: strawberry pazzo cake with herbed creme fraiche. Pazzo means crazy in Italian which describes this cake well; balsamic vinegar drizzled over a sweet strawberry cake.  I’m intrigued!

Speaking of strawberries, check out my recipe for a cold oven strawberry pound cake mom is sure to love.  Or head to My Name Is Yeh for Molly’s cardamom vanilla cake with strawberry filling and cream cheese frosting.  I’m drooling.

Looking for a simple yet delicious cake recipe?  Head to Food 52 for their olive oil cake recipe.

Don’t feel like baking? Check out Baker’s Royale lemon ice box cake.  Yum!

Meyer Lemon Upside Down Poppy Seed Cake + 5 Must Try Upside Down Cakes!

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I nearly missed these smooth skinned beauties neatly stacked like a pyramid of little suns, nestled between the overpriced organic lemons and limes.  I blame my 3-year-old for the near miss.  Grocery shopping with him is like wrestling a bear while trying to maintain some composure and getting everything on my list.  A nearly impossible feat! And yet somehow, out of the corner of my eye or the eyes that exist on the back of my head, I noticed the plump, canary yellow orbs.  I grabbed one, rubbed my thumb across its glossy skin and held it to my nose.  Sweet, floral, bright; a perfect contrast to the heavy, cheese and meat laced comfort food coming out of my kitchen this time of year.

Unsure of what to do with them or the $2.99 a pound price tag, I placed a few in my cart anyway; picked up my 3-year-old who was elbow deep in the organic (oh c’mon) chocolate malt balls candy bin, which, by the way, is oddly placed in between the produce and fancy cheese, (another WTF moment in a long month of WTF moments); and carried on.

I admired the little lemons sitting in our fruit bowl on our sometimes sticky, sometimes clean, kitchen island for a few days before deciding to make an upside down cake.  Sexier recipes for a lemon curd, preserved lemons, cupcakes and pastry cream enticed me briefly before I settled on this 1920s throwback.  Something about taking an old-fashion dessert and modernizing it with Meyer lemons and poppy seeds appealed to me post inauguration.

So I got to work thinly slicing a few lemons, melting butter and sugar together to create a syrupy, caramel like topping and carefully placing the lemons on top of the delicious goo. Next, I made a butter cake batter adding Meyer lemon zest and poppy seeds which made it taste exactly like my Mom’s famous lemon poppy-seed tea cake.  Fifty-five minutes later I had a tender, sweet, subtly tart and modern upside down cake.  I hope this cake brightens your January as much as it did ours.

Meyer Lemon Upside Down Poppy Seed Cake

recipe adapted from Baking Illustrated Fresh Fruit Upside Down Cake

Serves 8 -10

Ingredients for topping:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

3 Meyer lemons, sliced 1/4 inch thick, seeds removed

Directions:

Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 inch round pan thoroughly.  Set aside.  Using a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add both brown sugars , stir and cook until the mixture foams, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Pour the butter/sugar mixture into your prepared pan and spread evenly across the bottom of the pan with a spatula.  Arrange the lemon slices in concentric circles.  Set aside.

Ingredients for cake:

1 + 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons cornmeal

1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

zest of 1 Meyer lemon

2/3 cup of milk

Directions for cake:

Place oven rack in the lower middle position and pre-heat your oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter at medium speed.  Slowly add the sugar followed by the lemon zest.  Beat until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the egg yolks and vanilla, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula once or twice.  Next, reduce the speed to the lowest setting and add the dry ingredients and the milk, alternating until both are incorporated into the batter.  Mix until the batter just becomes smooth.

In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold in one-quarter of the egg whites to lighten the batter.  Then fold in the remaining egg whites until they are completely incorporated.  Pour the batter into your prepared pan, spreading evenly with a spatula.  Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 55-60 minutes.

Allow cake to cool on a wire rack for a few minutes.  Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan.  Place a serving plate over the pan, hold in place and flip so the cake is now sitting on the platter.  Remove cake pan.  If some lemon slices stick to the bottom of the cake pan, remove them and place on top of the cake.  Serve at room temperature.  Enjoy!

**Cake will last two days stored in an air-tight container, at room temperature.**

5 Must Check Our Upside Down Cakes

Craving  more citrus in your life?  Head to Broma Bakery for an upside down winter citrus cake that is sure to brighten any January day.

Before pear season is gone, make Fix Feast Flair’s cardamom pear upside down cake.

Love grapefruit?  Check out Food on Fifth’s recipe for a grapefruit upside down cake.

Spring will come and when it does make Martha’s plum-blueberry upside down cake.  This is on my must make list.

I love all things banana flavored so I need to make David Lebovitz’s banana upside down cake, knowing my picky nine-year old will refuse to eat it.  Banana hater.